Theatre Review: Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

Words: Janine Coates
Thursday 26 January 2023
reading time: min, words

A magically zany reworking of a classic


Ballet generally conjures up images of tutu-ed girls and men in tights gracefully pirouetting across the stage but what Matthew Bourne has delivered with his staging of Sleeping Beauty sits far outside the bounds of that visual cliche. 

This gothic retelling of the classic fairy tale offers something beautifully unique. The dancing from the whole cast was exquisite, as one would expect from the masterfully trained New Adventures troop, but what really captivated me was the way in which Bourne’s choreography narrated the story with such detail, drama and humour.


There were plenty of laughs, from a puppet baby Aurora climbing the curtains with an exasperated Miss Haddox (Aurora’s nanny, danced by Sophia Hurdley) frantically in chase; to a poetic display of modern-day tourists capturing the legendary vine-covered castle on their mobile phones. There were chilling moments too – Carabosse, the dark fairy (Jackson Fisch) opens the show as a shadowy figure grasping a baby in her hands; the curse on Aurora (Ashely Shaw) played out by faceless characters foretelling Aurora’s demise. Bourne takes his audience on a journey with his storytelling, and the Tchaikovsky score, while not played by a live orchestra, brings to life this emotional tale.


Sleeping Beauty is, of course, a love story. In Bourne’s interpretation, Aurora falls in love with the palace gardener, her own Prince Charming, Leo (expertly danced by Andrew Monaghan). To bridge the 100 year wait to break her curse, Leo is bitten by the vampiric King of the Fairies, Count Lilac (Dominic North). But Carabosse’s son, Caradoc (also played by Jackson Fisch) becomes an unlikely, malevolent suitor to Aurora, with plans to avenge his mother.  This love rivalry plays out in a red velveted disco show-down, with Leo and Count Lilac eventually slaying Caradoc; before Leo and Aurora wed and introduce their own fairy-vampire baby.


There is a lot to say about this magically zany reworking of a classic, but I think what holds the story together (aside from Lez Brotherston’s beautifully enchanting set and costume design), is the superb characterisation Bourne and the dancers manage to achieve – no mean feat in the absence of dialogue. We see Aurora’s personality shine through from the start, where the cast expertly puppeteer a cheeky and mischievous baby, who grows to be a feisty and flirty young woman.  Ashley Shaw exudes grace, precision but most strikingly personality through her dancing, which really gives the sense of a fully fleshed character.

Bourne really has created a ballet which caters for all.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal from 24 to 28 January 2023.

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